Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Albert Mazibuko opens up
More than 40 years ago, Joseph Shabalala had a series of dreams that manifested in the path and sound of his choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Incredibly, Shabalala’s vision of a 10- to 30-member a cappella group that tours the globe singing dreamy harmonies and uniting people of all ages and backgrounds came to fruition. Now, Ladysmith is internationally recognized as the world’s foremost ambassadors of South African music, and along for the entire ride has been Albert Mazibuko.
Since the group’s inception in 1960, Mazibuko has been a core member. It took 20 years of playing before Ladysmith’s first album went gold, and 30 years before Paul Simon helped make the band a household name with Graceland. More amazing than the incredible obstacles the band has overcome or its mind-blowing musical offering, is how mellow Mazibuko is.
From a La Quinta hotel room deep in the heart of Texas, Mazibuko takes a break from reading “The Power of Positive Thinking” to explain how he keeps sane on the road eight months out of the year. “We are always on tour and it keeps us young to be playing music for people and making them happy—which makes us happy,” he says. “It’s true that we spend a lot of time in motels, but when I am alone I have my own time. I am a person that likes to read and when I am alone it is so nice. When I’m on tour it’s truly a wonderful time.”
Ladysmith Black Mambazo was Grammy nominated for its latest release, Songs from a Zulu Farm. Due to touring conflicts, Ladysmith has not been to the ceremonies since 1988, but according to Mazibuko, “We are over the moon that Zulu Farm has been nominated—it’s a very special album of roots music—the music we heard when we were young. These are the songs we used to sing as children in South Africa.” The power of the songs resonates with Mazibuko. “When I play these songs on stage it brings back memories and puts a big smile on my face. I think, ‘Wow,’ to be able to sing the songs I sang as a child to other children. Can this really be happening?”
Adding to the stew of South African children’s songs is the old American standby “Old McDonald,” that the band adopted and redid in Zulu. “We were in the studio and about to finish recording Zulu Farm and we asked our friend, ‘Is there any famous American song about farms?’ Fortunately, our grandsons were there and they said they used to sing ‘Old McDonald’ in school. They showed us how it was sung and we invited them into the studio. We brought in more microphones, and the recording studio was packed. We decided to combine the Zulu and the English and it turned out beautiful. People like to sing along to that one.”
From extensive touring to the double CD the group just released, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Friends, featuring duets with Dolly Parton and Taj Mahal, Mazibuko greets every moment with a spirit of reverence. “We don’t start praying at the show, we start when we are home before we start the tour. It’s important that we have the time to all pray together and to go to the mountain where we stay for the whole day, fasting and praying. Before we go onstage every evening we pray together with a special prayer that lets us know we can do the anointing and bless ourselves and bless the audience.” Photo: ShaneDoyle
Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, at The Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $30. For advance tickets, visit kuumbwajazz.org, or call 427-2227.